Budget for Mid and West Wales Fire Service set to rise by 8.4%
THE budget for Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service is due to rise by 8.4% next year.
Councillors on the Mid and West Wales Fire Authority, which sets the fire service’s budget, agreed a figure of £68.55 million at a meeting on December 18 – £5.3 million more than the current financial year. But the numbers could change in February following further spending announcements by central government.
Pressures on day-to-day fire service spending include salary increases and a requirement to pay higher employee pension contributions. Its current budget is around £9 million more than last year’s.
The vast majority of fire service funding comes from Swansea, Neath Port Talbot, Carmarthenshire, Powys, Pembrokeshire and Ceredigion councils, which in turn get most of their money from central government. Around 25% of local authority funding comes via council tax.
An 8.4% budget increase will mean each of the six councils contributing more than currently, but it’s not an even spread due to recent changes in population estimates. For example, Swansea Council will be expected to contribute £18.3 million – 7.1% more than it does now, while Carmarthenshire Council contributes £14.3 million – 10.4% more – and Powys and Ceredigion councils both contribute 12% more.
Chief fire officer Roger Thomas said he had presented the budget proposals to all six local authorities, where he talked about the challenges of recruiting and retaining firefighters, among other things.
One particularly tricky area for fire services is recruiting on-call – or retained – firefighters. On-call firefighters come from all walks of life and agree to provide a certain number of hours of cover in return for a salary. They do not staff the fire stations 24 hours a day, like full-time firefighters, but get notified of an emergency call via a personal pager. An extra £1 million is being spent this year by Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service to make the on-call role more attractive, such as a recognition payment linked to length of service, and better rates of pay to attend key training courses.
Mr Thomas said on-call firefighters earned just 57p per hour on average for standby hours. “That’s the stark reality,” he said.
Cllr John Davies, the fire authority’s deputy chairman, said the budget proposals had been scrutinised prior to the meeting, and that in his view there would come a time when extra costs – such as the requirement to pay higher employee pension costs – could not be passed on to councils, and that additional savings would need to be made. “That point is getting closer,” said Cllr Davies.
Authority members voted in favour of the 8.4% increase and also approved a five-year capital spending programme running to 2027-28. Meanwhile, councils in Wales will be informed this week of their provisional funding settlement by the Welsh Government.
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